The Tea Party: defenders of the American Dream?
Topics battle of ideas
, tea party
Battle of Ideas 2011, 29th October 2011, Royal College of Art, London
co-director, NY Salon; co-founder, London's Truman Brewery
professor of law, George Washington University; author, The Supreme Court: the personalities and rivalries that defined America
writer and broadcaster; author, Standing for Something: life in the awkward squad
contributing editor, Reason magazine; author, Ceasefire! Why women and men must join forces to achieve true equality
co-founder and director, NY Salon
Ever since the Tea Party movement burst onto the scene in 2009, the debate has raged on about whether it is a grassroots protest movement in the proud tradition of American dissent, or a hysterical mob driven by fear, intolerance, racism, and selfishness. Originating in protest at the economic stimulus package and the weakness of the official Republican Party, the Tea Party (Taxed Enough Already) is not a party as such. It does not have a party structure or a coherent political program, but claims to be a grassroots movement of millions of like-minded Americans from all backgrounds and political parties. It claims to be the real defender of the American Dream and to share the core principles of the Founding Fathers, such as limited government and statesâ rights, individual freedom and responsibility and free markets. Many credit the Tea Party with a key role in the Republicansâ winning control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 mid-term elections. More than 40 candidates supported by the Tea Party were elected to the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Others claim the rise of the Tea Party is more of a reflection of popular alienation from the elitist political establishment and with politicians of both parties. And some suggest the mediaâs preoccupation with the Tea Party reveals anxiety in the media and political elite about their detachment from ordinary people. Before the movement represented much of anything, many liberals drew attention to it, and warned of the dangerous consequences if it got close to power. Some argue their fear of the Tea Partyâs rise became a self-fulfilling prophecy: shining the spotlight on the movement has given it the aura of being something new, different and capable of changing the American scene. So how significant is the Tea Party? Given the cynicism about partisan politics in the US and the disaffection with the traditional political parties, is it a positive thing that the Tea Party can claim no leaders and no strong ideology? If this is not a genuine opposition movement, what would one look like?